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Shelley’s warnings in Frankenstein

Novelist Mary Shelley wrote her Frankenstein, which soon came to be one of the most well known 19th century Gothic stories of all time. She conveys various messages through her writing, including ones that can be relevant to contemporary society. One would think that the reader would have to look through a new historicist lens, that is, attempt to understand the book intellectually through its cultural context, as well as a timely one. We can try to interpret this novel through the perspective of life in the early 19th century, however perhaps she had a premonition for the future in regards to the development of science, technology, and human conditions. I believe that we should treat Shelley’s novel as a cautionary tale. It should prompt us to ask ourselves if our science and technology today is or is on track to cross lines to the point of human anguish and demise.

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Frankenstein

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Victor wanted to do something that had never been done in science or technology during that time. He abuses his pursuit of knowledge when he pushes the limits to unknown territory, all in a quest to create a creature from old body parts. As Victor accomplished his creation, he soon came to realize what a horrible mistake he had made by creating such a monster.  Continue reading

Frankenscience

In Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein uses his knowledge of technology and science to attempt the unthinkable by creating life. By attempting to create life he is not only attempting the impossible, but is also creating danger. In successfully creating his monster, Victor Frankenstein realized that not all science and technology is beneficial.  Continue reading

A Lesson From Frankenstein

One message conveyed by Frankenstein is the danger that lies with considering the negative consequences of science and technology after-the-fact, instead of before. More generally speaking, when people neglect to consider the potential negative impacts of their actions, it is a form of willful ignorance. On the other hand, being risk-averse is tricky because predicting the future with complete accuracy is impossible. Although Frankenstein was written in 1818, the unintended effects of science and technology still plague society today.

In chapter three, a chemistry professor M. Waldman encourages Victor to pursue a broad education, which inspires Victor to gain knowledge on the secret of life and eventually create Frankenstein. I see a parallel in the often well-intended interests of people in scientific fields and the encouraging relationship between M. Waldman and Victor. Google started as a project by two PhD students with the goal of analyzing the relationships among websites.1 Yet, Google’s use of user’s privacy data in the last decade has lead to controversy about its “freemium” model.2 In order for Google to adequately fund its business operations, many critics have asked if it is moral to sell customers’ private data. It is a difficult question to answer because on the other hand, Google provides a host of free services that many educational institutions and their students benefit from. Much like Victor’s creation of Frankenstein, Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s creation of Google has sparked many issues regarding the ethics behind their technology. It is unlikely that Victor and the creators of Google could accurately predict the long-term impacts of their creation. However, some level of risk estimation is not impossible; Victor could have considered what to do if Frankenstein misbehaved and the creators of Google could have considered other ways to become a profitable business without data infringement.

“Seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries.”3

The novel also address the shortfalls of creating Frankenstein and in a broader sense, the negative impacts of science and technology in a cynical and destructive manner. In the above quote, Robert Walton recounts Victor’s warning on the dangers on ambition by “[seeking] happiness in tranquility”. In the context of the novel, this disposition is sympathetic to Victor’s character and his experiences creating Frankenstein. However, when placed in the context of modern science, this disposition will lead to laziness and further destruction. This quote sheds light on the cynical side of humans in face of immense scientific and technological discoveries. Many people today are like Victor and feel overwhelmed and defeated by the consequences of science. With global warming, for example, our society is divided on how to deal with high greenhouse emissions. Some people are indifferent and are not proactive about lowering their carbon footprint. As a result, these people are living in “tranquility” and following the negligent advice of Victor.

“From The Garage To The Googleplex,” Google, accessed September 24, 2018.  https://www.google.com/about/our-story/

Freemium is any product that provides a service for free while additional services can be purchased for money.

3 Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. London: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, 1818.

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